#ICEOutofAustin

Feb 2, 2017
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The Washington Post

The 'sanctuary city' on the front line of the fight over Trump's immigration policy

 Last spring, Jim Rigby opened the doors of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church to Hilda Ramirez and her 10-year-old son, undocumented immigrants fleeing civil strife in Guatemala. He borrowed some furniture, set up bunk beds in the Sunday school teacher’s office — and trained church members to lock the doors and form a human shield if immigration officers come knocking.

“Do we stand up for human rights now? Or do we act like zebras on the Serengeti, hoping the lion eats us last?” said Rigby, 66, the longtime minister of one of Austin’s most liberal houses of worship. “People of good conscience,” he said, must put themselves between asylum seekers and “harm’s way.”

Rigby is part of a growing movement determined to oppose President Trump’s policies for cracking down on immigration. While thousands of protesters gather nationwide to decry Trump’s temporary travel ban on refugees and on citizens of seven majority-Muslim nations, Rigby and other activists in cities with large immigrant populations are bracing for what they fear will come next: a wave of raids and deportations.

Trump has called for the deportation of as many as 3 million undocumented immigrants who have committed crimes on U.S. soil. In one of his first acts as president, Trump ordered the Department of Homeland Security to look at withholding federal funding from cities that refuse to assist immigration officials, a loose collection of municipalities known as “sanctuary cities.”

Austin has become the first battleground in that conflict, where the governor and a local sheriff are now locked in a standoff over the issue. A liberal enclave in the heart of conservative Texas, the capital city lies a little more than three hours from the Mexican border. About 35 percent of its 931,000 residents are Hispanic, according to U.S. Census estimates, and the city is home to a vibrant sanctuary movement that sprang to life during President Barack Obama’s first term, when his administration carried out a record number of deportations.

In November, voters in Travis County, which includes Austin, elected a new sheriff, who campaigned on a promise not to detain people based solely on their immigration status. Hours after Trump took office, Sheriff Sally Hernandez (D) posted an eight-minute video on her official website explaining the new policy, which took effect Wednesday.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), a Trump supporter and immigration hard-liner, quickly fought back, accusing Hernandez of playing “a dangerous game of political Russian roulette — with the lives of Texans at stake.”

This week, Abbott made good on a threat to withhold $1.5 million in state criminal justice grants, money that funds services for veterans, parents struggling with drug addiction and victims of family violence. He also asked state agencies by Friday to prepare a full list of all state funding provided to Travis County, suggesting that additional punishment may be forthcoming.

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Abbott called on lawmakers to act urgently to ban sanctuary cities. A measure drafted by state Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock), an Abbott ally, would withhold state funding from cities, counties and colleges that do not comply with immigration detainers. It also would require county jailers to determine and record the immigration status of every arrestee. Supporters and protesters of the legislation crammed into the Texas statehouse Thursday for a hearing of the bill, which, as Perry acknowledged under questioning, does not actually define “sanctuary city.”

Last week, Abbott threatened to oust Hernandez, who was elected with 60 percent of the vote. Legislation to permit him to do so has yet to be filed, but a spokesman for Abbott noted that the threat to cut off state funding was sufficient to persuade the Dallas County sheriff to abandon sanctuary policies last year.

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In Austin, sanctuary activists applaud the new sheriff’s stance. But they say that keeping ICE out of the county jail will not be enough to thwart the crackdown. So they’re planning mass acts of civil disobedience, soliciting churches to shelter undocumented immigrants, developing neighborhood warning systems so people know to hide when ICE comes through and training volunteers to act as human shields.

“Our plan is to prepare 500 people to do sanctuary in the streets,” said Alejandro Caceres, 29, a legal resident from Honduras who leads the ICE Out of Austin campaign for the civil rights group Grassroots Leadership.

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Rigby, the church minister, acknowledges that sheltering an undocumented immigrant is risky. “When you’re aiding someone who is being called a criminal, you’re protecting them in your church, you can be charged with violating federal law,” he said.

But Rigby insists that Americans have a humanitarian obligation to provide shelter to innocent people fleeing violence and lawlessness — even if it means defying the government in Washington and the Texas statehouse.

“You got a president and a governor who are rattling swords,” Rigby said. “Would you protect people being hunted? Well, now we get to find out the answer.” [node:read-more:link]

Feb 1, 2017
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Austin American-Statesman

Immigrants, former inmates team up against prisons, deportations

A coalition of more than 100 immigrants, activists and former inmates marched through downtown Austin on Wednesday, urging lawmakers to give them a break as they consider legislation aimed at punishing so-called sanctuary cities and rolling back “fair chance” hiring policies.

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The experiences of former jail and prison inmates are not always the same as those of immigrants who entered the United States illegally, but Sofia Casini, immigration programs coordinator for Grassroots Leadership, said there are many parallels to the challenges they face.

“There is a (cross section) between the same communities who are being exploited and oppressed for profit and for gain from these private prison corporations, and from those who would wish to push us down through these bills in the legislature,” Casini said.

Lewis Conway Jr., a towering man who spent eight years in prison and another 12 on probation shouted into a megaphone as the crowd rumbled through downtown behind a booming drum line.

“Make Some noise for no more prisons, no more deportations, no more ICE, no more police brutality, no more drug wars in our community,” he said.

Conway now serves as a criminal justice program associate for Grassroots Leadership, a group that seeks an end to mass incarceration, deportation and privately run prisons. He called the prison system a social control mechanism.

“Many of the members of our community are locked in that jail, and they keep making excuses for keeping them locked up. But we’re not going to accept any more excuses,” Conway said. “The same excuses they made for those jails they made for slavery. The same excuses they made for why black lives don’t matter (are) why that jail exists.”

Melvin Halsey, a Navy veteran with the Texas Advocates for Justice said he wants to promote unity between the LBGT community, immigrants and the formerly incarcerated, and band together against the challenges the groups face.

Halsey, who said he suffers from mental health issues and has been incarcerated four times for offenses related to drugs and alcohol, said he is looking for a chance to be a good father and grandfather.

“There are so many of us who are formerly incarcerated who need a job, who need housing, who need to take care of our children and grandchildren,” Halsey said. “To kill that would just be devastating to a lot of us.” [node:read-more:link]

Jan 27, 2017
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Brenham Banner-Press

Battle heating up over 'sanctuary cities'

The fight over sanctuary cities in Texas has become a high-profile political battle between a county sheriff in Austin and Gov. Greg Abbott.

The governor has vowed to withhold millions in state funds under a proposed “Sanctuary Cities” bill if Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez keeps her election promise to not enforce most federal immigration policies. Add to that President Trump’s executive order this week to withhold federal funds from sanctuary cities, and Cristina Parker, immigration programs director for the immigrant-rights group Grassroots Leadership, called the threats “political grandstanding.” [node:read-more:link]

Jan 27, 2017
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KCENTV

Battle gets heated in Austin against Sheriff and Governor over new Immigration executive orders

As border control becomes more of a priority with the new White House administration, the fight over sanctuary cities is heating up close to home.

The county sheriff of Austin and Gov. Greg Abbott are facing off in a high-profile political battle as two different party mindsets clash in the Texas state capitol.

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“The governor has issues two main threats,” she said. “one is to withhold funds from Travis County- these are things that fund stuff like homeless programs, public-safety programs, needed money-to the tune of about $1.8 million,” Cristina parker, Immigration Programs Director for the Immigrant-Rights group Grassroots Leadership said.

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Senate Bill 4, which will be reviewed next week by legislation committees, defines sanctuary cities as those that do not cooperate with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.  

Hernandez has said that she will be willing to work with ICE if they give the proper due process of the law.

“She will work with ICE if they come with a warrant. They come with a warrant for some, she’ll honor that,” Parker said, “And every other law enforcement agency, they come with a warrant. And so really, “Sally’s just saying she wants ICE to have to follow that kind of due process.” [node:read-more:link]

Jan 28, 2017
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NPR

Austin Sheriff Says She'll Limit Cooperation With Federal Immigration Authorities

Trump's war on sanctuary cities is playing out in Austin, Texas. The sheriff vowed to defy federal demand to turn over immigrants in the country illegally. The governor is threatening to remove her.

SALLY HERNANDEZ: The public must be confident that local law enforcement is focused on local, public safety, not on federal immigration enforcement. Our jail cannot be perceived as a holding tank for ICE or that Travis County deputies are ICE officers.

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BURNETT: With this action, Travis County joins 300 other jurisdictions around the country, such as New York City, Chicago and the state of California, that reject ICE detainers. These are requests by ICE to local law enforcement to hold unauthorized immigrants in jail so federal agents can decide whether to pick them up for possible deportation. In deep-red, law-and-order Texas, the sheriff's announcement, which she campaigned on, was akin to kicking a fire ant mound. Republican Governor Greg Abbott's response was swift. He spoke to FOX News.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GREG ABBOTT: She would give sanctuary to people who are in the United States illegally, who've been convicted of crimes in the past, of heinous crimes like armed robbery. They could have been operating in conjunction with drug cartels, and she would not cooperate with ICE whatsoever.

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Bob Libal is director of an immigrant human rights group in Austin called Grassroots Leadership. He points to studies that show noncitizens commit crimes and go to jail at about the same or lesser rate as citizens do. He sees the president's and the governor's offensive against sanctuary cities as scapegoating immigrants.

BOB LIBAL: It's simply playing on a cheap kind of anti-immigrant bigotry.

... [node:read-more:link]

Jan 27, 2017
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Public News Service

Battle Over Sanctuary Cities Heats Up in Texas

The fight over sanctuary cities in Texas has become a high-profile political battle between a county sheriff in Austin and Gov. Greg Abbott.

The governor has vowed to withhold millions in state funds under a proposed "Sanctuary Cities" bill if Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez keeps her election promise to not enforce most federal immigration policies. Add to that President Trump's executive order this week to withhold federal funds from sanctuary cities, and Cristina Parker, immigration programs director for the immigrant-rights group Grassroots Leadership, called the threats "political grandstanding."

"The governor has issued two main threats," she said. "One is to withhold state funds from Travis County - these are things that fund stuff like homeless programs, public-safety programs, needed money - to the tune of about $1.8 million."

Abbott's other threat is to remove Hernandez from office for not enforcing immigration policies. Parker said no law allows the governor to do that. Senate Bill 4, with a legislative hearing next week, would define sanctuary cities as those that do not cooperate with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. 

Parker said state officials - and now the president - are trying to make an example of cities such as Austin, Dallas, Houston and others, for opposing ICE requests for immigration holds.

"I've heard many other people describe it as the feeling that the governor is bullying our community and our local officials, who are putting in place policies that we demanded of them," she said. "Sort of an overreach, a little overstepping of bounds, to try to come and tell us what we should do in our community."

She said Hernandez mainly wants ICE to follow the same rules as any other law-enforcement agency.

"She will work with ICE if they come with a warrant. They come with a warrant for someone, she'll honor that," Parker said. "And every other law enforcement agency, they come with a warrant. And so really, Sally's just saying she wants ICE to have to follow that kind of due process."

The Immigrant Legal Resource Center lists 15 cities and counties in Texas among the 400 across the country it has identified as sanctuary cities.

The sheriff's statement is online at tcsheriff.org. SB 4, the Sanctuary Cities bill, is at capitol.state.tx.us. [node:read-more:link]

Jan 24, 2017
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The Austin American Statesman

Like in Travis County, Dallas County sheriff incurred Abbott’s wrath

Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez knows what it’s like to get a letter from the governor.

In 2015, Valdez announced that her office would no longer provide blanket compliance with federal immigration officials seeking to intercept unauthorized immigrants at local jails for possible deportation.

Her new policy raised ire from numerous fronts in a deeply red Texas. And, like recently sworn-in Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez, Valdez quickly became the recipient of a letter from Gov. Greg Abbott with harsh criticism.

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Abbott threatened Monday to cut off state criminal justice grant funding to Travis County unless Hernandez rescinds a policy that would limit detention requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement and would end ICE agents’ unfettered access to the Travis County Jail. Travis County received $1.8 million in criminal justice grant funding from the state last year.

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Hernandez’s policy is more specific. According to Hernandez, the Travis County Jail will only honor ICE detention requests, or “detainers,” on people charged or convicted of capital murder, murder, aggravated sexual assault and human trafficking. All other detainer requests would require a court order or warrant.

Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, called Hernandez’s policy the most progressive in the state. It comes closer to similar policies adopted in Colorado and Oregon.

Hernandez had long promised to end Travis County’s cooperation with ICE. She announced her policy Friday as celebrations and protests of President Donald Trump’s inauguration were underway. In recent years, ICE has relaxed its policy on detaining undocumented immigrants at jails, but that could be changed with the stroke of a pen from Trump. [node:read-more:link]

Jan 23, 2017
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The Daily Texan

Travis County Sheriff announces policy to not comply with federal immigration law enforcement

On Monday, Gov. Greg Abbott denounced Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez’s promise to not detain undocumented immigrants for deportations by federal agents without warrants, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

Abbott’s letter was in response to a video that was released last Friday in which Hernandez said she will not comply with Immigration Customs and Enforcement agents without warrants seeking to deport undocumented immigrants booked in local jails come Feb. 1.

“It is my policy to focus on local, public priorities and to leave it to federal immigration officials to focus on federal immigration enforcement,”
Hernandez said.

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Executive director Bob Libal of Grassroots Leadership, an advocacy organization championing immigration rights, said he has been waiting for such an official announcement for a policy by Hernandez.

“This is a tremendous victory for immigrant community members who have been pushing for years to put an end to the county’s voluntary compliance with immigration detainers of the jail,” Libal said. [node:read-more:link]

Jan 15, 2017
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The Guardian

How immigration activists prepare to fight deportations under Donald Trump

If and when Donald Trump’s administration executes on his deportation strategy, immigration advocates are starting to formulate a plan.

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When agents arrive at the door, undocumented immigrants can call for help and one or more US citizens will quickly arrive to stand in front of the door, watching, challenging and filming law enforcement with the goal of ensuring constitutional rights are respected and encouraging a media spotlight.

“We have kind of a canned spiel that one person just keeps repeating,” said Babs Miller, a minister at St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Austin: “‘I am a trained and certified immigration observer, notice has been given that there’s an incident to be observed, do you have a search warrant, may I see it please?’”

Miller is part of the Sanctuary in the Streets initiative, which aims to frustrate immigration raids – an enforcement strategy that was used to target Central American families by the Obama administration last year and is expected to be a feature of the next president’s term.

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“We’re trying to respond now to the threat of the Trump administration and the possibility that it will get even more severe than it has been,” said Sofia Casini, immigration programmes coordinator for Grassroots Leadership, an anti-mass incarceration group that announced its upcoming plans at a press conference in Austin on Monday.

Trump has pledged to remove up to 3 million undocumented immigrants quickly. “I think that we should take him at face value; everything that he says we should believe,” Carmen Zuvieta, of the ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] Out of Austin group, said through a translator. A mother of three, her husband was deported to Mexico four years ago.

Unless they have a warrant signed by a judge, ICE employees are not allowed to enter homes without permission.

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On average, according to Grassroots Leadership, 19 Austin-based immigrants are deported per week. With an estimated 1.5 million undocumented immigrants, Texas has the second-largest such population in the country, behind California, according to the Migration Policy Institute. Most have lived in the state for more than a decade.

Miller’s interest in the cause grew when her church gave sanctuary last February to two Guatemalans, Hilda Ramirez and her son, Ivan. They are still living there but gained relief from deportation in October, which allows them to leave the building without fear of being detained. A growing number of US churches are expected to open their doors to undocumented immigrants in the coming months in the knowledge that ICE policy discourages enforcement operations in “sensitive locations” such as places of worship.

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Families in Austin are also being encouraged to prepare binders with personal information such as forms of identification, marriage certificates, power of attorney letters and character references. If someone is detained, family members can then quickly provide attorneys with details that could speed a release on bond and may help gain quicker access to financial assets if the main breadwinner is in custody.

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And the new sheriff of Travis County (which includes Austin), Sally Hernandez, is a Democrat who ran on a platform of ending compliance with ICE requests to hold people who have been detained by local law enforcement for an extra 48 hours so they can be picked up by federal immigration authorities.

But politicians in Texas’s Republican-dominated legislature are set to debate a bill that would eliminate “sanctuary cities” that do not cooperate with federal immigration enforcement. The proposal has the support of the governor, Greg Abbott. [node:read-more:link]

Jan 9, 2017
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Texas Observor

Activists Announce 'Sanctuary in the Streets' Ahead of Trump Inauguration

Immigrant advocates gathered Monday morning in Austin to announce what they’re calling “Sanctuary in the Streets” — a city-wide, direct-action network that plans to defend undocumented immigrants from deportation raids under the incoming Trump administration.

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Alejandro Caceres of Grassroots Leadership added that the group is training people to be “the physical barrier between ICE and the person they want to raid.” Caceres said the network, which is divided into 10 districts, will maintain a hotline, (512) 270-1515, where people can report a raid in progress. Trained volunteers in the area will then be summoned to stand between ICE agents and the immigrant or immigrants targeted by deportation.

Caceres told the Observer they don’t know yet how fast response times will be, but they will be holding a practice run soon. Caceres explained that ICE has no authority to arrest American citizens, so ICE officials would have to depend on local law enforcement officials to arrest the network’s volunteers, making operations more costly and difficult.

“If immigration [agents] want to be seen with police officers arresting a bunch of nice, older church folks, that’s fine,” added Caceres. “But the public is going to see it, and more and more people will get involved.”

The city of Austin and Travis County have also pledged to defend immigrants. In December, in anticipation of the Trump administration, the Austin City Council voted to “find emergency funds” to expand the capacity of legal organizations to serve an additional 100 immigrants per month, according to KXAN.

In November, Travis County voters also elected Sally Hernandez as sheriff. Hernandez has promised to end collaboration between ICE and the Travis County jail. Like many jails, Travis County currently honors ICE detainers — meaning it extends detention of undocumented immigrants at ICE’s request so the agency may potentially deport them.

“At the local level, we can fight proactively for policies we believe in,” said Cristina Parker of Grassroots Leadership. “But at the state level, it’s about fighting against policies that would discriminate against and harm the immigrant community.”

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The Sanctuary in the Streets effort is an extension of an existing sanctuary movementSince the 1980s, progressive churches have shielded immigrants and refugees from deportation by allowing them to live on their premises, taking advantage of a long-standing ICE policy of avoiding “sensitive locations.” The movement has experienced a resurgence since 2014.

The Austin Sanctuary Network has won relief from deportation for Sulma Francoand Hilda Ramirez — both Guatemalan women.

“We’re adding onto the existing model,” Caceres told the Observer. “We are expecting sweeps and raids under Trump, so we need to get out there and put our physical bodies on the line to stop people from getting picked up in the first place.” [node:read-more:link]

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